The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta had been on my list of things to do for quite a while because all the photos I’ve seen make the event look amazing. I’ve been to the Walla Walla Air Balloon Festival and it was pretty cool but the one in Albuquerque is known to be one of the largest, if not the largest, and most comprehensive. I’m glad I went with my friends to this event as it surely did not disappoint.
We decided to drive to the balloon fiesta for two main reasons. The first reason being that the price for flights in and out of Albuquerque increase substantially the week of the fiesta. Secondly, the Albuquerque airport to me seems more like a regional airport and isn’t that large. As you may know, flights are usually cheaper if you fly into main hubs or airports within major metro areas. All the airports surrounding Albuquerque are several hours away, so you should weigh the cost of flying to a close by airport and driving as opposed to flying.
We were traveling on a road trip from Colorado anyway so driving here fit right in. We had booked a room in a nearby motel and got to Albuquerque around midnight. The plan was to go to the Night Magic Glow the following night, so we definitely needed our rest.
The next day we spent some of the day on the Sandia Peak Tramway. There is a tram that takes you up to above 10,000 ft so that you can get a view of the beautiful southwestern surroundings. It’s a cool experience (temperature-wise so bring a jacket) even if you’re a little afraid of heights.
We headed back to the fairgrounds just prior to sunset and had a little bit to eat and grabbed some adult beverages. The food at the fiesta is typically what you’d expect of fair food. This means funnel cakes, burritos, pizza, milkshakes, cotton candy, elephant ears, turkey legs & deep-friend everything.
The Night Glow is only available on certain nights so be sure to check the event schedule to see what will be happening if you decide to go at night. The Night Glow basically is when all the balloons are grounded and all the pilots light the balloons up with the fire when it gets dark.
As the sun sets the emotion of the folks attending become a little bit more excited. People take their places on their picnic blankets and on the benches scattered about in preparation for the upcoming experience. One thing I love about this event is that everything isn’t roped off. Everyone is allowed to roam the grounds freely to take in the experience in their own sense. You can walk really close to the balloons or talk to the pilots. So, the freedom is really amazing.
You can get some great photos as the sun sets of all the balloons fully inflated on the ground.
Then the darkness comes and an announcer provides general disclaimers and safety information over the loudspeakers and then starts a 10-second countdown. As the announcer gets closer to the number one, people start to get up from their blankets and the tension mounts. Then 5-4-3-2-1 and a flurry of fire flashes across the field in quick succession.
I was completely overwhelmed with emotions. It’s just too much! I actually kept saying that out loud over and over. It’s like my mind wasn’t able to process it all. I just defaulted to the primal way of experiencing the event which was sound and sight. You feel so small amongst all the giant balloons. Also, there is a possibility of danger from the explosions of heat and fire all around you and there is mass chaos from people swerving, bobbing, and weaving around the grounds trying to get the best vantage points to take in the entirety of the experience.
I lost the friends that I was with as we scattered to the four corners of the earth so quickly once the fire started blasting out all over the place.
Don’t worry too much about moving around too quickly to try to get all the angles because they do the countdown several times and light up the scene at least 10-20 times or more.
Be sure to stay after the night glow on nights that they are doing the fireworks show because it’s almost like two for the price of one. The Night Glow was truly amazing and I’m glad we did it first as we also had the Mass Ascension to attend the following day.
The Mass Ascension is the event that most people typically see in photographs. It’s when all the balloons are released into the air to fly overhead filling up the sky with the different orbs of air in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
The ascension is really early in the morning and they try to get the balloons up before it gets too hot, so if decide to sleep a little late, then you’ll probably miss the majority of it. We actually got up at 4 am in order to get a parking spot as it’s really a hot (no pun intended) ticket event.
It was also super overwhelming mentally just like the Night Glow. It’s spectacular to see more than 500 balloons go up and way all at once against the backdrop of the rising sun and blue sky.
I took a few shots of some of my favorite balloons, but there are just so many overall that I’m sure when you go, you’ll find at least one or two that will blow your mind.
Overall, going to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I don’t really have a bucket list but if I did, I would have been extremely happy to cross this one off my list. I will definitely be going again and hope to take my travel companion (my sister).
- Book your accommodations several months in advance as the majority, if not all hotels, motels, and Airbnbs will most likely be fully booked
- Bring a camera other than a cell phone
- Keep a close watch on your kids as it’s easy to lose them once all the commotion starts
- You can purchase tickets online or pay at the event
- They have trams that pick up at certain locations so you don’t have to park on site
- Be prepared get there early…VERY early
- Keep your cell phone charged or bring a walkie-talkie for communication
Lastly, this is definitely an experience to share with someone you love or at least like a lot but don’t be afraid to go solo as you’ll be sure to have an awesome time. Have fun and enjoy living in the moment!
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